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Cuddly management? Being an employer is about managing, not mothering

When it comes to staff behaviour and performance, what kind of management do you have?

Some employers apply strict policies to keep employees on a tight rein. Others take a more laid back approach, letting conduct slide and demonstrating reluctance to confront disciplinary issues.

It is this 'soft' attitude, which I advise against. Having the appropriate management style is key to good business. Many employers are too easy-going on staff and let tough decisions be made with their hearts instead of their heads.

When it comes to dealing with the consistently poor performance of a member of staff, some managers are slow to implement disciplinary action. Work culture is increasingly based around inclusivity but political correctness should not override business sense. Straightforward decisions sometimes take three to four months to make as employers waste valuable business time nurturing employees instead of managing them.

In my experience, this type of 'cuddly' management is just not business efficient. There is a difference between listening to employee's problems and delaying important business decisions because of them. There is also a difference between getting on with people as an employer and being everyone's best friend."

I'm not saying that managers shouldn't care for their staff, empathy is important, but I am increasingly frustrated by employers who delay business decisions whilst pandering to an employee's personal needs. Employment should be based upon performance. Other factors should certainly be taken into account, but they should not dominate.

So, why is this happening and what are the effects?

Fear is paramount. Confusion about UK employment law leads many employers to believe that if they say no to employees, they will find themselves in a tribunal. In reality, this is extremely rare. I have worked in HR for 15 years and I never been in a tribunal."

Some employers also think that staff discipline is too complicated to tackle. The myth that disciplining is a difficult process is often used as an excuse by employers who are trying to delay it. Time wasted in prolonging the inevitable firing of an underperforming individual can be damaging for business efficiency and eventually, profitability.

On top of this, taking too long to make tough decisions is likely to lose you the respect of your employees. Whilst staff want to see compassion in their bosses. The failure to take decisive action against underperformers won't impress other staff. Quite the opposite in fact. An individual who is not pulling their weight is likely to be adding to the work load of colleagues around them, potentially increasing their stress levels and working hours. Staff trying to cover all these gaps will be relieved to see their management take fair, decisive and prompt action.

I have experienced this many times. I have been into businesses where the employees have lost respect for the management. They see their colleagues getting away with slack behaviour and avoiding appropriate discipline. The management looks weak and staff begin to question their leadership skills and business direction. This is a position which no manager wants to be in."

So, what should employers do to avoid these kind of problems?

It is a question of balance. The workplace must be a harmonious mixture of power between employees and managers. Give employees too much power and they can become unruly, disrupting business. Be too tough and you risk alienating staff."

Every employer should spend time considering where to draw the line between severe and soft. If you are unsure of your rights as an employer. You will still need to follow the law, but knowing your rights will help you to prevent the fear factor.

Ultimately being an employer is about managing, not mothering.

Dean Hunter, MD of HR consultancy Hunter Adams